Continuing with “Sham Inquiry”

Elbowing in on good science

The Journal of Scientific Exploration is the published by the Society for Scientific Exploration which describes itself as “a professional organization of scientists and other scholars committed to studying phenomena that cross or are outside the traditional boundaries of science and…are ignored or studied inadequately…” Many of the members’ topics of research and methods are considered pseudoscience by conventional scientists. The journal is closed to outside contributors and criticism.

The journal contains many articles that reveal a deep hostility to science presumably because the scholars’ interests have been ignored or disparaged by the contemporary scientific community. Authors frequently characterize the scientific establishment as elitist, dogmatic and authoritarian. They denote themselves as visionary, oppressed, open-minded and comprehensive. They “know for certain the existing paradigms are flawed” and “know better than our opponents what is real and what is not” [1]. Along with complementary medicine practitioners and holders of religious viewpoints, the unorthodox scientists also want a seat at the table, wishing to merge with science, as complimentary [2]. They aim to do this not by proposing an alternate model but by changing science as it now operates to make room for their subjective methods [3].

In a paper entitled “Change the Rules”, the authors conclude that when phenomena are highly correlated with subjective parameters, science needs to expand the paradigm to accommodate them. Called the “science of the subjective”, the purported advantage would also be to improve the attitude, utility and image of science [4]. Very convenient, but only they are asserting that such improvements are necessary. It is a blatant attempt to blur the line between evidence and belief and demolish high standards of scientific quality that has served humanity very well over the past few centuries. Another example is the comments of the record in the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial where it was noted that in order to accommodate supernatural causes, such as intelligent design, one would need to “broaden the ground rules of science” [5].

In one very disturbing but enlightening paper by B. Martin [6], he notes that scientist who are dissenters from majority opinion should take action to be accepted by mimicking orthodox science. This includes setting up institutions (even with one person) and specialized journals to add credibility, aim to publish anywhere, enlist patrons, seek different audiences (that is, appeal to people who will not critique one’s work), and build a social movement. This plan sounds remarkably like the successful creationist approach. One wonders if Martin, trained as a theoretical physicist, had the gains made by creationism in mind.

Along with the characteristics indicative of pseudoscience, a false science community will claim “the institutional moral authority” of science for themselves while trying to deny the same for their opponents [7]. A currently popular view is that public education should offer alternative paradigms as equal but different explanations of natural observations. This is presented as an attempt to be fair and open-minded by those who are actually not at all fair and open-minded. This method has been indicted as having more to do with religious and political ideologies than fairness [8] and nothing at all to do with science [9].

[1] Jahn, R. G. (2008). “A Fourth-of-July Speech to my SSE Colleagues.” The Explorer: Newsletter of the SSE 19(2): 7-9.
[2] Transcription error

[3] Bunge, M. (1995). “In Praise of Tolerance To Charlatanism in Academia”. The Flight from Science and Reason (1996). P. R. Gross, N. Levitt, M.W. Lewis, New York Academy of Sciences.
p. 106.

[4] Jahn, R. G., B.J. Dunne (2008). “Change the Rules.” J. of Scientific Exploration 22(2): 193-213.

[5] (2005). “Kitzmiller vs Dover”, US District Court For The Middle District Of Pennsylvania. p. 68.

[6] Martin, B. (1998). “Strategies for Dissenting Scientists.” J. of Scientific Exploration 12(4): 605-616.

[7] Toumey, C. (1996). Conjuring Science, Rutgers Univ Press. p. 94.

[8] Godfrey, L. R. (1981). “Science and Evolution in the Public Eye”. Paranormal Borderlands of Science. K. Frazier, Prometheus Books: 379-390.

[9] See Kitzmiller v. Dover.

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